Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Autumn Equinox in Flower

I wasn't sure which of the glorious wildflowers of the Autumn Equinox to showcase for Wildflower Wednesday!
My first candidate was Salvia azurea. It's the best blue in my fall garden and each time it blooms I wish I had more.  

Pitcher sage is not only beautiful, it's a favorite of bees. The bumbles are the primary pollinator of this salvia and fit nicely into the lipped flowers. The Carpenter bee, although another frequent visitor, is not a pollinator.  It cannot fit into the flower, instead it slits open the corolla and robs the nectar while avoiding contact with the pollen. Occasionally, butterflies visit, but, I've not captured any photos this year...It's a sweet flower that's native to North Carolina south to Florida; west to Texas; north to Nebraska and Minnesota. It's happy in full sun or partial sun as long as it gets good drainage.
Conoclinium coelestinum
I considered Hardy Blue mist flower as a contender and even wrote a post, which I'll share later this season. It's another of my rough and tumble, take care of themselves wildflowers. Many gardeners under appreciate the charms of Hardy Ageratum. They consider it too weedy and aggressive for their gardens, until it blooms and then they, like me, begin wondering why the heck they haven't more of it! I am not wondering this year, I let it spread about 4 feet down the side of the Susan's bed and I am thrilled with the river of blue.
the red stems and the rough leaves are attractive, too.
It's a plant that you might want to consider using as a ground cover on most any soil, but it excels in heavier, moist soils. This wildflower species is native to eastern and central North America, from Ontario south as far as Florida and Texas.
Tall Coreopsis
The yellow composites were also in the running for Autumn Equinox star. Check out Coreopsis tripteris, it's still going strong. Imagine a Coreopsis on steroids, but, just the stems! These  plants can get really tall and are good at the back of most borders. We don't do that here...we plant where ever there is soil and no bedrock! Tall Coreopsis rather charmingly leans over and gently brushes against its neighboring plants! It's what happens when the trees create a shadier garden than the plants need. 
 I am so glad it's still in bloom to cuddle up next to the ex-asters. It can be found naturally occurring in the eastern US as far north as Rhode Island, south to Florida and across the Mississippi River as far west as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa.
Ex-asters, Goldenrod and Tall Coreopsis
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae are the first of the ex-asters to bloom. They're tall and gently sway in the slightest breeze and look especially beautiful this year. I didn't weed them this past spring and they've spread to make a lovely show in pinks and purples.
found in every state but a few western ones and LA, TX  and Fl
They are pretty nondescript in a summer garden, but, more than make up for their greenness in mid September when they open up to feed the bees, skippers and butterflies. This native of eastern North America is an autumn-flowering gem with blooms ranging from pale pink to deep purple. New England asters are a critical late season nectar source for migrating Monarch Butterfly, so if you're lucky to be on the Monarch migration trail please plant a lot of them!
narrow elongated foliage and self supporting stems are a plus
Another good looking Asteraceae that was under consideration was Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light'. The later bloom is a plus for this tamer sunflower! Willowleaf sunflower has dozens of golden-yellow flowers with dark brown eyes on stems that need no support~even in my shadier space. If you grow 'First Light' or the species in shade it will be taller and less floriferous. When happy it might spread so be prepared to divide it every three years.
Birds enjoy the seeds and  the crab spider hiding on the petal lets me know that bees and small pollinators visit the flower. Helianthus salicifolius is not a native of Tennessee! I love it anyway! It is a native of the central United States, primarily in the Great Plains and Ozark Plateau (States of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas).
Rudbeckia fulgid var fulgida might be my favorite of the Susans this year! They bloom late, and flower for a very long time. The long stemmed beauties have smaller flowers and are a favorite of the smaller bees. I've been growing it in containers to keep the more aggressive R fulgida from running it over.

If I had the energy I had 10 years ago I would take out most of the R fulgidas and plant this species. The stems are taller and the flower is in my opinion prettier. But, that's probably because the Susans are looking pretty seedy right now!

The Goldenrods are also star material for the Fall Equinox post.  I like to plant New England aster with goldenrod. A dynamic duo. A perfect marriage of good looks and functionality. They provide color and nectar at a time of year when both can be in short supply.
ambush bug just waiting for dinner to drop by
There are 100s of Solidago species in North America and you can be sure you will find several that make sense for your garden. I grow one cultivar~Solidago 'Fireworks' and love it. The rest are species, some prefer the woodland garden shade like Zigzag goldenrod and others are happiest in full sun.

I couldn't choose one, I love all my fall stars!

Give me this time of year with the intense yellow of goldenrod, the brilliant pink and purple of the New York asters and the lilac-blues of Hardy Blue Mistflower against the Autumn blue sky. These early fall blooms with their intense, rich colors are a treat for the senses.

But, they are so much more than pretty faces. Each one of these darlings provides more pollen and nectar return on investment than many other flowers combined. All of these native wildflowers are landing pads of deliciousness for butterflies, bees, wasps and moths. They're magnets for all kinds of insects; including some that are themselves food for spiders, birds and other insect eating critters.
These beauties are essential nectar and pollen sources for late visiting bees and butterflies, but also are known host plants for many moths and butterflies. The caterpillars of  Pearl Crescent and Checkerspot butterflies feed on Symphyotrichum novae-angliae; about ten different moths and butterflies rely on the foliage of Goldenrod; although, Mistflower is primarily a nectar source~it's foliage is eaten by several moth and butterfly cats.

My love affair with native plants has been going on for so long that now they are more beautiful to me than many classic garden flowers. I love  rough and tumble, take care of themselves wildflowers. I love their good wildlife value. I love that they are absolutely perfect for Clay and Limestone! 

Happy Wildflower Wednesday my friends.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. So many to choose from I agree Gail. I think Rudbeckia fulgid var fulgida is my favorite too. I let it seed around the garden. And mist flower is something I have been eyeing for a while. I think it would be a great addition to my late garden with ex-asters and helianthus.

  2. So many lovely flowers this time of year and all are natives. Wonderful. I love to watch the bees attacking the flowers. Hummers come along after to use those hole that carpenter bees make.

  3. Hi Gail! I always enjoy your posts. You have a cheerful, relaxed writing style, and your big photos are always a treat to see. We chose some of the same plants this month. Is 'Witchita Mountains' one of the goldenrods you grow? The second and third from the last remind me of it. I get confused about plant cultivar names, because some of them occur naturally in some areas.

  4. thought very much of you as I have just discovered our honeybee is an endemic Capensis.
    From the bee conservationist I learned that the best bee plant is perennial basil - still looking for it.
    Also borage which I have planted and it flowers.
    We don't have bumbles, but I do have carpenter bees and and and ... on my wildflowers.

  5. Your garden and wild flowers are amazing Gail. Here in the UK we grow some of these in our gardens for cut flowers. You are so lucky to have them growing wild in your country. Gillian

  6. The west coast has a much smaller selection of wildflowers, and many eastern ones I have tried have not done well. Conoclinum coelestinum always makes me think it is dead then finally a small plant appears, and slowly grows, now it has buds and will soon bloom. But the Goldenrods I am featuring today seem to be doing well and hopefully in a few years will make nice clumps. Your wildflowers all look wonderful, Gail!

  7. So beautiful!! I found more dry shade natives that attract pollinators and added them to my garden. :o)

  8. All amazing choices! I really hope adding lava rocks and chicken wire around my Asters, Goldenrods, and Blue Mistflowers will keep the rabbits and the chipmunks out. Blue Mistflower is amazing! But it will never spread much in my garden because the critters will eat it or dig it up.

  9. Wow. You've given me so many great options here to add to my garden :)

    I was unfamiliar with Salvia azurea, but I'm very interested now... !!

  10. You made the right choice, to simply highlight ALL the great wildflowers that make up your garden there. Goldenrod in the wild makes me swoon, but it also made me realize that my own goldenrod did not return. I'll have to replace them. But how to fit anything into my crowded jumble of plants? What a problem to have, yes?

  11. I always forget about blue mist flower, until it blooms and wonder why more people don't grow it.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson